The reproductive organs of the female body has long been a site of contention, where opposing ideologies in religion, politics, cultural differences often play out. Perhaps of all the questions, the one of reproductive rights strikes a particularly sensitive nerve.
At the writing of this project description, US President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order which cut off all U.S. funding to international NGOs whose work includes abortion services or advocacy. Images of this executive order being signed by Donald Trump flanked by a cabinet of men have widely circulated, begging the question: why do these men feel they have a right to determine women’s reproductive choices?
Through an art project of female empowerment, I seek to challenge this status quo by engineering a system by which I (a woman) can control something inherently and symbolical male: spermatozoa (sperm). Through the use of a brain computer interface, I will capture electric signals generated by my thoughts, and translate those signals into a system I have engineered to control the movement of sperm along an XY axis through a phenomena known as galvanotaxis.
The intellectual investigation of this project is threefold:
[1.] to engineer a system that directs the movement of sperm generated from the signals of my brain activity,
[2.] to communicate the project aesthetically and expressively through art and design,
[3.] to pose critical cultural and philosophical questions such as:
What symbolic implications are there to a woman controlling sperm with her thoughts?
What are the thresholds between the body and mind in the current technological landscape?
What are the relationships between reproductive technology, gender, and politics?
What cultural shifts occur when the digital avatar/pixel being manipulated is actually a living organism or the potential for life itself?
This project involves an on body circuit, a brain computer interface, and the motility of semen and controlled by thought. As a work of art, this project reflects upon is the current political climate, in which a woman is losing rights related to procreation within her own body.
The subjectivities of humans have long been influenced by scientific and technological breakthroughs. Some scientific revolutions, such as Copernicus’ model, which shifted the center of the universe from the Earth to the Sun had religious implications. Other breakthroughs, such as that of synthetic biology, raise philosophical and existential questions on what life is. With every technology and scientific development, our plastic subjectivity goes through modifications and expansions.
As Sophia Roosth and Astrid Schrader eloquently ask in their article “Feminist Theory Out of Science: Introduction”:
“What is the relationship of critical feminist theory to science studies? How might we envision critical theory’s encounter with scientific accounts of the world? Might we read scientific theories as already critical, the lived world as already doing science, busily generating theories of itself?.... How do scientific theories inform cultural critique? How might scholars generate critical theories out of scientific ones?”
As an artist, I aim to make work that explore different technological embodiments of our time while reflecting on their societal implications. Over the course of the last few years, I have been learning and investigating the tools of the biological sciences. It is my aim to harness what I’ve learned to make a project that reflects on the entanglement between science, technology and society, especially as it relates to the body, gender, reproductive rights, and politics.
What are some counter narratives to this male dominated history of female discrimination? In an age of technological advancement where we often speak of transcending our bodies to the point of posthumanism, why do are we still influenced by dubious theories of biological determinism? In this project, I explore these themes through the symbolic act of controlling the cellular unit of male reproduction.
Mind Controlled Sperm
Overview: The System
I am creating a system by which a woman can control the movement of sperm with her mind. This system utilizes several different technologies, which are described in further detail below. A Brain Computer Interface (BCI) is used to read the electrical signals from my brain, and these signals are translated into commands for a microcontroller. Through these commands, the microcontroller moderates the charges on a circuit on which semen is placed. The directional motility of sperm is gained through a phenomena known as galvanotaxis, where cells migrate towards a specific charge in an electric field. A microscope connected to a digital camera sends live images to a video screen to allow viewers to see the directional movement of the sperm. Through this system, the motility of sperm on an XY coordinate system is gained through the thoughts of a woman.
Galvanotaxis and Electrophoresis in Sperm
Galvanotaxis, also known as electrotaxis, refers to a phenomena where cells migrate directionally towards electrodes in a direct current (DC) electric field (EF). Galvanotaxis has been observed and documented in over 14 cell types, including mammalian granulocytes, bone cells, amphibian neural creast cells, and mouse sperm.
Electrophoresis refers to the motion of dispersed particles in a fluid under an electric field. Standard, mature human sperm carry a net negative charge, and electrophoresis can be used to move sperm towards the positive electrode under an electric field. This technique has been used to separate out larger, more robust sperm for processes related to in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Using a combination of the phenomena of galvanotaxis and electrophoresis, I am directing the movement of sperm through the manipulation of electric fields. As mentioned above, the specifications I have come to through experimentation is 12V/cm.
Brain Computer Interface (BCI / EEG)
An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a method of electrophysiological monitoring- the recording the electrical activity of the brain. A brain-computer interface (BCI) takes this EEG electrical activity, analyzes them, and sends the signals to a computer which can be programed for various commands and outputs.
Within the last 15 years, commercially available BCIs have unlocked a proliferation of its usage for creative means of expression. Reflecting on an era of continual human computer symbiosis, I am incorporating BCI technology into my project to further investigate the threshold and continuum between the mind and the body as augmented by a computer interface.
Optics / Microscope
The system for optics in this project is a USB enabled digital camera connected to a microscope. The video footage gathered from the microscope will be collected onto a computer and live streamed through a projector, to allow for an immersive experience of the performance. Human spermatozoa are typically 50 micrometers in length, and require a microscope objective of at least 10X. In my tests, a magnification of at least 40x is desired, for clarity and proper resolution for projection.
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